The Hunter’s worst roads

THREE of the five roads voted worst in the Hunter in the NRMA’s latest Seeing Red on Roads survey earned their status because of ‘‘general congestion’’.

All three are major highways, suggesting most voters in the survey probably live outside the Hunter and may only experience its roads when touring or holidaying.

The Pacific Highway at Bulahdelah, the New England Highway at Maitland and the F3 freeway at Black Hill were all panned by road users for being congested.

The remaining two roads on the list were the Bucketts Way at Allworth and Broke Road at Pokolbin – both criticised for their poor surfaces.

When the $315million Bulahdelah bypass opens later this year the goal of dual-lane divided highway all the way to the Queensland border will be a little closer and the holiday season traffic jams long associated with the Myall River town will likewise move further north.

As for the New England Highway in Maitland, the problem is that the highway doubles as a local road. It’s already busy, and Maitland’s expansion is making it busier. Maitland City Council has discussed lobbying the state government for a continuous four-lane road from Rutherford to Lochinvar and for the reopening of Oakhampton railway station.

The F3 freeway at Black Hill also serves as a regional feeder road, and struggles at times to handle the dual role.

Pokolbin’s roads are notoriously bad. Cessnock City Council has invested some of its limited funds in road improvements in the area, but one might expect the state significance of Pokolbin’s tourism assets to justify substantial help from the state government. The fact that Broke Road is the only Hunter road in the NRMA’s list of the 10 worst in the state indicates both its poor condition and its importance.

The Bucketts Way has been improved in recent years, but some stretches remain poor and aren’t helped by regular flood damage and the insistence by heavy vehicles on using the road, at times, as an alternative to the Pacific Highway.

As the number of vehicles on Hunter roads increases year by year the number of roads affected by severe congestion will also rise. That’s why this newspaper persists in advocating a proper regional transport plan, with decision-making power in the hands of Hunter people.

IF, as has been suggested by some members of Newcastle City Council, elected councillors are not legally free to accept tenders for works other than those recommended by council staff via evaluation matrices, it’s hard to see the point in them being shown the tenders at all. Some councillors have alleged that they were warned of possible legal action if they opted for a supplier who offered a toilet block 20 per cent cheaper than the $250,000 staff-recommended bid.

Already ratepayers are excluded from much information about how their money is spent, through the invocation of ‘‘commercial in confidence’’ or other provisions. Now, it appears, one of the few areas of democratic oversight in purchasing goods and services for the public that had remained may also have been removed.

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